Love teak or hate teak? No, more like love it and hate it. I love teak but there’s no doubt it’s not fun to maintain. Like most things on a boat though, if you stay ahead of it and use the right products, it’s not too terrible and the benefits and beauty outweigh the work. Bare teak has been used on sportfish boats for years. It looks amazing and traditional, provides grip, hides footprints, and reduces glare but the maintenance can be a struggle.
Sportfish boat crews maintain their boats to arguably the highest standards in the industry. Especially when you take into account the abuse the boats take in the process of chasing gamefish, and maybe some spilled cocktails. Sometimes products and techniques that work for a regular boater or even a yacht simply wont work for a sportfish boat.
In our business of outfitting new boats and selling products for maintaining sportfish boats we get questions every day asking what the latest and greatest teak maintenance products are. Like many of the products in the sportfishing industry, there are trends and what’s popular today may not be tomorrow.
It’s not about which product is the best, it’s about which products and maintenance techniques are best for your specific boat and your type of use. What’s most important is having a plan and understanding what works well for your boat and why.
What results are you trying to get?
How often is the boat running or fishing vs. sitting at the dock?
Are you doing more entertaining or more fishing?
Does your boat have a station wagon effect where engine soot is getting on the decks daily?
Are there other environmental factors causing problems with your teak? From there you can determine how to maintain, how often to sand and clean and what products to use.
First, a little bit of info about teak
Let’s start with an understanding of the wood itself. There is both hard and soft grain in the wood so each part of that grain will wear at a different rate. Certain maintenance techniques and products do different things to the wood itself.
1. When freshly sanded with a heavy grit paper both hard and soft grain is taken down evenly.
2. When you acid wash teak, scrub with the grain, or use too aggressive of a brush/pad, you are taking away the soft grains of the teak and leaving high ridges of the harder teak to collect mildew and dirt.
General weekly maintenance
Cleaning - The best simple maintenance routine is a weekly cleaning with a soft brush or fine Scotchbrite pad if needed across the grain with a mild detergent like tide, dawn, ammonia, or boat soap. Add a very small amount of bleach if you are seeing mildew or want to brighten. There is a product called Bioclear made by DITEC that is the proper way to correct a mold and mildew problem. To touch up spots or freshen up your teak an occasional light sanding with 120 wet/dry paper or a soft sanding block.
Teak Brightener - Use a teak brightener product as needed to get the look you want. This is strictly for looks. It doesn’t do anything for preserving the wood. There are several products available and there are certainly some industry favorites. It should be applied on an as needed basis.
Sealers - There is a lot to discuss here on this topic or sealing teak on sportfish boats.
ACIDS ARE NOT GOOD FOR YOUR TEAK. People think sanding shortens the life of your teak decks and covering boards but it’s not as abusive as acid. Acid cleaners just remove the soft grain and make room for water to sit and create issues and eventually create uneven grain
If the weekly scrub of regular detergent, sudsy ammonia, or eco friendly teak cleaners aren’t working, think about why. Don’t just try a bunch of cleaners and degreasers. Are you harder on the teak than normal? Are there environmental factors at your dock causing issues? Spills? Exhaust soot? Some cleaners may work better than others for your issues and a professional captain can help you decide what may work better for you. Don’t resort to using two-step cleaners or acids more often than you should just because it’s a quick fix for appearance. It may look great in the short term, but you may be bringing your problems back sooner than later and unnecessarily wearing down your decks. So use caution with frequency of two step cleaners. Maybe you’ve heard of products that some pros use and wonder why you’re using the same products and not getting the same results. Their maintenance program and use of the products may be different. It’s all in the details so make sure you ask for specifics if your consulting with a professional. Some cleaners have a degreaser but you may need something to kill mold or vice versa. These are all things to consider. Talk to a professional that has teak that you like and ask but make sure you are doing everything they are doing, not just using the same products.
Sanding your decks for a clean slate
Standard practice is to sand your decks about once a year. Sometimes a good sanding can be better for the longevity of your decks than a two step cleaner because the hard and soft grain is taken down evenly. Talk with whoever is doing the work and discuss the use of the boat. Finishing with 80 grit on the decks leaves a nice unpolished teak surface that isn’t slippery but it may require a little more maintenance because the grain is left a little more open. An 80 grit finish on the deck and 120 grit finish on the covering boards may be a good solution for a boat with a crew or on a regular maintenance program. The higher the grit you use for the sanding the more slippery the deck. A 120 grit finish is not too slippery but tightens the grain up on the covering boards to provide a little more resistance to abuse. If the boat is going to be sitting for months at a time or you simply don’t have time for weekly washings and maintenance, it may be worth compromising and finishing the teak to a higher grit finish.
Finishing with a sealer or oil
When you have the teak looking exactly the way you like it, either after a sanding or a good cleaning, a teak sealer is a great product to use to prolong the natural appearance of the wood and also seal the grain. Make sure the teak is properly cleaned before applying. Some have biocides and UV inhibitors added, which can really help prolong the condition. Again, consider the look you are trying to achieve, environmental factors, and how often you are fishing when making a decision of which sealer to use. Some do not change appearance of the teak at all if you want a natural look. A few popular sealers are Semco and a new product call Triton made by Ditec. Teak oil products are also an option, although some can sometimes promote the growth of mildew. Typically, they are only used on covering boards or mezzanine trim areas and definitely change the look of the wood. Again, talk to a teak professional or a captain with a boat that has the look you are going for and make sure the product works for you before applying.
Long term maintenance
If the boat is going to be sitting for several months at a time, a professional sanding to a higher grit finish may be a good idea to keep the hard and soft grain even and keep dirt and mildew from building up. Invest in a good sealer to apply and your teak will be well protected. Bringing the teak back to life when ready for season will be a much easier process with a light sanding and a cleaning.
Key things to remember:
-Always keep the teak wet when possible while fishing or traveling, preferably with fresh water
-A light weekly scrub with a soft brush and detergent goes a long way to making the wood last
-Always scrub across or against the grain
-Try to keep the soft and hard grain even by minimizing the use of two-step cleaners on your teak
-The best teak product is a cockpit cover. The cost will pay for itself fairly quickly because of less sanding and prolonging deck life